Incoming: Larousse Plays at Tour Guides
Having discovered the French medical system and seen close-ups of my poor knackered knee, I wasn’t surprised when it quickly became as temperamental as it did. Painkillers are expensive when your EHIC card is apparently not worth the crappy plastic it’s printed on and I was resisting the temptation to prescribe myself a merlot or five. So when The Coordinator told me she was coordinating a second visit, this time sadly without my father but with two of my aunties, I was delighted. She was bringing a seasoned GP and a stash of codeine-based painkillers. The mummy doctor was in.
Possibly having sensed I wasn’t quite my old self in the face of terrifying prospects such as “taking it steady” and “avoiding over-exertion” (oh and surgery), she also came armed with Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and Chocolate Digestives, just two of the things I miss most about the UK (and not only because Creme Egg season provides numerous opportunities to ridicule my good friend Columbo’s oddly French pronunciation of “Creme”).
In fact, she brought so many items intended to bring me joy, peace of mind or just to make life easier that the toiletry bag she’d packed for herself was comically empty by the time she’d made her many medicinal offerings.
A few weeks prior to their arrival, I received an email from one of my aunties, in questionable French, addressed to “ma petite”, reassuring me of her level of schoolgirl French. I should have warned Toulouse of their imminent crash-landing there and then.
And so it was on the train platform that we had our emotional and many-legged reunion (since I was by this point with crutch), as I marvelled at the fact they’d made it from Carcassonne to Toulouse without incident. They checked into their hotel, again without incident. And then we went out for dinner…
I’d chosen a simple, not overly French joint for eats, knowing it was late and the Intrepid Three could most likely eat a, well, Hippo. They made marvellous attempts with their French à l’anglaise, but in my excitement at having them there I forget to give the “you can go wrong with a steak” tutorial. After my auntie had politely requested (begged) hers be shoved under the grill a little longer (and it is of course against one of the Ten French Cuisine Commandments to suggest “blue” and “medium” are not culinary synonyms) it came back no longer mooing with an extra portion of veg and chips. Bref, we ate a Hippo and a half.
We spent some time exploring the sights of Toulouse: its places, its ponts and its people. All of which are usually more than up to scratch. Until Two Generations on Tour show up of course. I’ve had a theory for some time, which I call the Crazy Ratio. The Crazy Ratio can be as high as 3:2 outside peak times on public transport. You could assume the two crazies on either side of you are talking to each other. But you’d be sadly mistaken. Of course it turns out that at least one member of my clan is a insanity magnet. It’s usually me. Having politely declined to hand out my barely existent pocket money, I’ve been serenaded, called a slut and informed that this particular beggar does in fact take cheques. I’ve never been simultaneously called a slut and punched though. I left that honour to Rocky Auntie, who apparently has a surprising amount of feist hidden behind a cultured exterior. She would have brought home the nutter-wrestling lightweight… If she hadn’t had to run away. I’m just glad she didn’t understand exactly what was being bellowed at her.
When we’d seen plenty of Toulouse, my two aunties decided they would visit Carcassonne on the Saturday, leaving The Coordinator and I to have some mother-daughter time. My non-crazy-wrestling auntie, who has a few coordinator genes in her, had booked open train tickets, picked up a timetable and accosted an English-speaking tourist for a map. Yet Rocky Auntie and The Navigator, despite their best efforts and my own, managed to make it onto a train originating from Carcassonne and destined for Toulouse. Where it planned to stay. Oops.
My mum and I learnt of this an hour or so later as we sipped coffee outside a small café a good distance from the train station. As it happens, The Navigator had expertly found her way to a market at Place du Capitole. Of course, finding my rellies at said market was like finding two middle-aged women in middle-aged haystack.
They did make it to Carcassonne the next day. We rose early and over a Quick breakfast rehearsed our “pauvres anglaises” act, ready for the SNCF staff who may or may not decide to exchange my aunties’ already composted tickets. Thou shalt compost (validate) your ticket, says the SNCF, and obey its tiny printed gospel, lest all Hell break loose. It was a tense moment.
For their penultimate evening in Toulouse, I decided on a Lebanese restaurant, so my clan could sample some more unusual cuisine. I say restaurant in the loosest sense of the word, however. What I should have told them was that I was taking them to a glorified takeaway by the name of Chez Nous Les Libanais. My rellies were perhaps less surprised than the staff, who were far more used to groups of students coming in for their pre-Place Saint Pierre kebab. For those not in the know, Place Saint Pierre (which is what the French call Saint Peter’s Square) is precisely the opposite of its counterpart in Vatican City- party-goers hail the beer and worship Le Saint des Seins (look it up) more than anything else… Safe to say, I marched the Intrepid Three quickly through the swiftly-forming crowd of Saint Pierre earlybirds and hoped they wouldn’t notice anything too depraved at this point in the evening.
The time quickly came to say goodbye and send my loved ones on their merry way back to Carcassonne Airport. Having waved them off on the train, I returned home to receive a string of email messages from my still-in-Carcassonne mother, who couldn’t believe she’d managed to choose the one French airport which will seemingly not be finished for some time. Having said that, my theory that France as a country is a tad unfinished stands.
Carcassonne Airport, some time before the time of writing, was apparently made of plywood, inviting in the aromatic odour of plane fluid and vibrating violently every time a plane passed (which, admittedly, is only every time a Ryanair flight dares touch down, distracting its passengers from a runway under construction with over-enthusiastic fanfare). Check-in consisted of a single assistant behind a desk probably nicked from the nearest primary school, buckling under the weight of a domestic printer, which he accidentally sent crashing to the floor, causing the same amount of noise as a Ryanair flight parking itself in the middle of the terminal and delays of an hour and a half. The same assistant, having checked the flight in, then took his position as the security attendant and began scanning hand luggage. The Coordinator says they were only playing at airports…